When I was in eighth grade I was caught with a copy of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring in shop class, by another kid. This “kid” who I will refer to as “Richard,” because that was his name, had been my best friend in sixth grade. Richard had just moved to the area that year and didn’t know anyone, and I adopted him when he was shunned by everyone else. After settling in however, Richard traded me for a better, cooler, best friend the following year. One of the ways he endeared himself to his new circle was by using what he knew, from our best-friend-years, to belittle and humiliate me, which always plays well to a group of twelve-year-olds trying to establish themselves as superior to anything. So when he found me reading a book, his eyes lit up with new potential.
He snatched the paperback and leafed through it. Then formulating his plan of attack declared: “It’s fantasy!”
He let out a laugh more easily associated with a DC comic villain who had a superhero strapped to some Rube Goldberg torture device and about to unleash his ultimate monologue. “You read fantasy!” He said it like I had given him a gift of untold value. “Sullivan reads fantasy books!” He continued addressing the class with a mocking tone. The other students, less worldly than either of us, could not quite see the significance of this discovery. I suppose they were confused by the fact that I read books at all--this usually being a sign of intellectual superiority to the average twelve-year-old male. Nothing to be proud of certainly, but not something to be obviously embarrassed of either.
Irritated at the lack of understanding, Richard turned to the most learned in the room…the shop teacher. “Sullivan is reading a fantasy book. Fantasy books are stupid, aren’t they? Just made up crap. Right?”
I felt my heart sink. He had me. Even at that age I knew fantasies with dwarves and elves weren’t going to have the legitimacy of say, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or To Kill A Mockingbird. Not in a teacher’s eyes. And this guy was a shop teacher, one intellectual step above the gym teacher who got drunk after hours and tried to light the school on fire.
I was doomed.
“Actually,” the teacher began, standing before the class sagely in his knee length gray lab coat. “Fantasy novels are known for often conveying greater truths about the world and the human condition than more realistic novels. And fantasy books make up a large portion of the great classics of literature.”
It was at that moment that I discovered several things. First, that shop teachers aren’t shop teachers because they're too stupid to be anything else. Second, that fantasy books are a lot cooler than I ever thought. Third, that Richard looked really dumb with his mouth hanging open and his face turning red. And fourth, that a lot of people have a tendency to denounce fantasy novels because they think it is cool, and will somehow make them look superior.
Today two kids in a shop class stood up and made fun of George R.R. Martin’s new HBO series. Not so much because it is good or bad, but because it is fantasy. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times, and Troy Patterson of Slate, both attacked Martin and fantasy in general in the guise of reviewing a television series.
Not wanting to offend anyone, least of all those that might love Martin, I must confess that I'm not a huge Martin fan. His style and mine differ greatly and while I appreciate his talent, it's just not my cup of tea. But these people are not making intelligent comments about his work, or even about the show--they are merely displaying an open prejudice for alternate-world fantasy as a concept. They are standing up in shop class and trying to make themselves look cool.
Martin and the producers of the show don’t deserve this kind of pre-meditated judgment and crucifixion from reviewers who could have written the bulk of their articles in advance of seeing the show. And I find it disheartening to see that same mentality I faced in eighth grade still prevalent in the minds of adults in positions to sway a population’s thoughts.
I’d just like to apologize to Mr. Martin on behalf of those who don’t know enough to realize they should.